SAN JOSE -- Sharks defenseman Justin Braun wasn’t making any excuses for going 85 straight regular season and playoff games without a goal. But, he probably could have made at least one.
The 26-year-old dealt with a broken hamate bone in his left hand last season, getting hurt while playing in Finland during the NHL lockout. He wore a cast and bone stimulator for five weeks beginning in December, and although he was able to play in the Sharks’ season opener on Jan. 20, the injury hindered Braun’s play with the puck.
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“I felt a little uncomfortable. If the puck was a little farther out, to shoot it, you really didn’t have that wrist strength,” Braun said on Friday. “Now, I can push it out, pull it in, and feel a little stronger doing stuff like that and getting good velocity on it.”
Todd McLellan said: “I thought last year he had great legs and was really well positioned, but there were moments when the puck and stick didn’t agree all the time, and that was due to an injury that he had.”
Minor offseason surgery was required, and in the Sharks’ 4-1 win over Vancouver on Thursday, Braun’s second period goal broke a 1-1 tie and ended up being the game-winner. The shot deflected off of a Canucks player, through Logan Couture's legs, and past Roberto Luongo.
It felt good to get that monkey off of his back. Braun’s most recent goal before that was on Feb. 10, 2012 against Chicago.
“It was good to get that out of the way early. I didn’t want to go another 20, 30, 40 games to get that off my back,” he said. “It’s nice to get that, and help the team win.”
Of course, offense isn’t the primary reason why Braun is in the NHL, or why he’s been able to cement his position in one of the Sharks’ top two pairs on the blue line. Partnered with the steady Marc-Edouard Vlasic for much of the second half of last season, that tandem was routinely seeing the best opposing forwards down the stretch and into the postseason.
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That was no different in Thursday’s season opener, as Braun and Vlasic skated primarily against either the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler’s second line.
“He’s grown a lot,” Vlasic said. “Now he’s a regular, playing 20 minutes a game. He’s grown so much. He’s strong, he plays hard, he’s a fast skater and he’s got a great shot, too.”
Vlasic continued: “Last year was the first year together, and it was great. Throughout training camp and even last game, we complement each other pretty well. I like playing with him.”
Braun, who has 30 points in 136 career NHL games, knows that his overall performance won’t be judged in terms of goals and assists.
“I just want to play good defense and shut guys down,” he said. “That’s what I want to continue to do. If goals keep coming, they’ll keep coming, but strong defense first.”
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There was a scary moment Thursday when Vlasic was hit in the face by Chris Higgins' skate late in the second period. The Sharks defenseman went down, got up after a few moments, and skated immediately to the dressing room after accidental kick.
Fortunately, the injury had nothing to do with Higgins' skate blade, but it was still a significant blow.
"The visor did what it was supposed to do," Vlasic said. "That’s why I have a scrape, basically. It’s just like you fell off your bike and scrape yourself. I’m going to say it’s no big deal, but it still hurts today."